Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Back around Halloween when Mars introduced their Candy Corn flavored White Chocolate M&Ms, I mused what it would be like if they made Egg Nog M&Ms.
Well, Trader Joe’s has gone over the top with their iteration of white chocolate with nutmeg with their Trader Joe’s Eggnog Flavored Almonds covered with Creamy White Chocolate.
They’re sold in a very simple plastic tub that holds 11 ounces and sells for $3.99 ... about the same price as Almond M&Ms ... but they’re all natural (but have no candy shell, unless you count confectioners glaze as a shell).
Trader Joe’s starts with premium almonds. I’ve noticed that a lot of other almond candies (Almond M&Ms) use the smaller almonds about the size of peanuts, but these are big, fresh nonpareil almonds at the center. The coating is real white chocolate with oodles of nutmeg. The combination is convincingly like egg nog. It’s sweet but tempered with strong vanilla and earthy/balmy nutmeg. The almonds are crisp and keep the whole thing from being too sweet (like actual egg nog tends to be). The white chocolate has an excellent melt, not quite silky but quite creamy without being sticky.
I love them, but I fully understand that they’re not for everyone. If you don’t love nutmeg, you’re not going to like these. However, if you do, the combination with the almonds is stellar. I can only hope they’ll have these year round, but I know that they’ll disappear in a few weeks.
It’s all natural and there’s not even any food coloring in there. There is dairy, soy and almonds in the ingredients plus it’s made on shared equipment with wheat, tree nuts and peanuts.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
I was pleased to see that Trader Joe’s managed to give this candy a name, as so many of their other holiday treats end up with nothing more than a functional description of ingredients or assembly.
The Merry Mingle is described as Cranberries, pecans and caramel don their dark chocolate apparel, creating a heaping helping of holiday candy. The box is large, holding 11 ounces, so it’s a good portion, and should be for the price.
The packaging is interesting, the box is sturdy and the graphics are clear and attractive. The inside is a little less posh: a plastic tray insert with four sections filled with four to five pieces each. While I may not have found the inside very nice to serve from, it did protect the pieces well, as they were all in very good condition when removed from the box. The chocolate was glossy and the pecans and cranberries were intact.
The pieces varied rather widely in size. Some were as small as one and a half inches while others were a full two and a half inches in diameter. The construction is interesting. The nuts and cranberries are held together with a little bit of caramel then they’re partially dipped in dark chocolate. There are a few zags and dribbles of chocolate on top of the pieces as well.
The base is mostly caramel, and it does a good job of keeping everything together. The caramel flavors (salt, burnt sugar) are lost in the toasty maple flavors of the pecans and the tart cranberries. The textures are great though, the caramel is smooth and chewy without being sticky or flowing. The chocolate, as the bottom, hits the tongue first, so it makes a bold impression on me as being deep and dark. There are coffee notes and probably some others but they’re lost in the flavor riot of the turtle.
Everything tasted fresh, each element was distinct (though the caramel a little lost). It also felt lighter then a traditional fully enrobed turtle (which actually do clock in at about 20 more calories per ounce). I get the impression from readers that they don’t look so good in the photos, but I thought they were great. If you’re a fan of Trader Joe’s trail mix but would like it dressed up for company, this might do the trick.
It’s Kosher but with so many ingredients, there are a lot of potential allergens: soy, milk, pecans plus traces of wheat, eggs, peanuts and other tree nuts.
Monday, November 28, 2011
Their new Trader Joe’s Minty Melts sound a bit on the classic side. Dark chocolate squares with a festive minty stripe.
The box holds 7.5 ounces and was $4.99. They’re Kosher and gluten free. There is no ethical statement about the origin of the chocolate.
The box is long (11.5 inches) but opens easily to serve. The inner box bottom is actually fully printed so you can pull it out and put it on the table or buffet if you don’t want to put them on a plate. The pieces are stacked, two high and two wide.
I was pleased with the ingredients, it’s real dark chocolate at the semi-sweet level of 56% cacao. The mint stripe is made of real white chocolate as well, with cocoa butter and real peppermint oil. There’s a touch of coconut oil in there, but it’s very low on the list, falling into the less than 2% area.
They’re almost perfect cubes, about 3/4 of an inch all around, though just a little shy on the height. The stripes aren’t equal. The base layer is thicker than the top and mint white chocolate middle. The appearance is a little rustic. They’re a bit scuffed on the edges and the sides aren’t always straight/square/plumb.
The dark chocolate is rich and has a good cocoa flavor. There are little gritty moments every once in a while. The white chocolate center is a little dry and chalky feeling, just not quite a fully chocolate smoothness that I was hoping for. The flavor is very well balanced, milky sweet but not throat searing, with an appropriate touch of peppermint that doesn’t overwhelm the dark chocolate.
The texture doesn’t quite hit it for me, but perhaps that’s because I was hoping for something a little creamier. However, I like the fact that it’s a Peppermint Bark without the crushed peppermint candies. While that’s a nice candy, too, I wanted to taste the smooth textures together. The name Minty Melts led me to believe that these were meltaways, but they’re not, they’re a solid chocolate product. Nothing wrong with that ...
These are sure to go over well in social settings, just the right size portion for guests or for snacking.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
At Christmas one of the great gifts is an excessive version of something mundane but much-loved. For candy this means colossal proportions. Oh sure, you could just get a wholesale sized bag of M&Ms or Skittles. But there’s something special about a version that’s substantially larger than the norm: Giant Hershey’s Kisses, Giant Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars, World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Giant Candy Canes and Giant Gummi Bears.
Mars is in the game this year with their Snickers Slice n’ Share bar. This year it’s exclusive to CVS stores. I found mine after going to several stores and it was even on sale for $7.99, regular price is $9.99.
The Snickers Slice ‘n Share is 16 ounces, while a standard Snickers bar is 2.07 ounces (so 8 times bigger). It’s also 9 times the price. The best value is probably to buy the snack size, which are about $1.25 for eight little bars totally 5 ounces - which comes out to $4.00 a pound instead of $7.99 a pound. But that’s simply not magnificent enough for gifting or wowing your guests. (See this 1925 ad for Oh Henry! that features the suggestion to slice and serve.)
The bar is protected in a paperboard tray and came out looking pretty good. It’s 9.5 inches long, about one inch high and 2.5” wide. A standard Snickers is only 1” wide.
There’s simply no way to depict how massive this thing is with photos because it’s dense and heavy. Honestly, I expected one pound of candy to have a bit more volume, but Snickers are certainly compact.
Like the old advertising slogan, this Snickers is packed with peanuts. The caramel envelops them completely and they’re jam packed in there all the way through the bar. The caramel and nougat layers are completely distinct and the chocolate is very thick, especially on the sides and the ripple on the top. It does flake off easily, but usually in big chunks that are easy to pick up and pop in your mouth.
The serving size suggested is a 1 inch slice (which is about 1.75 ounces - less than the 2.07 ounce regular bar). I found that to be a bit too thick and unwieldy, so I usually went for something about a 1/2 inch slice. It slices quite easily without falling apart, as long as you have a good, wide knife. A butter knife or steak knife are too small and narrow. A chef’s knife or even a clever does a much better job. Anything less than a half an inch though and the piece will not hold together well.
Also, I found that cutting straight down, with even pressure (chopping) was better than trying to angle it. The pieces came out cleaner and with less chocolate loss.
I loved the bar. I actually think I enjoyed it more than any other Snickers I’ve had in years. The peanuts were fresh, the caramel was thick, distinct and chewy plus the nougat was soft, slightly salty with a nice peanut butter toffee flavor. The layers are much more defined and folks who like to eat particular parts separately will have a great time.
Giant candy has always struck me as the kind of gift a kid would give to a parent or other relative. Not that I’d complain if my niece or nephew came me a giant version of a beloved candy. It’s a way to make a favorite special. But they’re not for everyday consumption. The specialness of the price assures that. But I expect because it’s under $10, it should find its way into many stockings this year, or because of its size, it will be adjacent to the stocking ... and featured heavily on early nights of Hanukkah.
The bar has all the same ingredients as the smaller versions. It’s hard to compare the nutritional value because of the difference in serving sizes, but the calories per ounce are greater for the Slice n’ Share than the regular size, so I’m going to guess that there’s more chocolate per bite on the small one since that’s where the densest calories are.
At a certain point something so large that it requires implements ceases to be candy. Candy is ready to eat, requires no knives or assembly.
The package warns that there are traces of tree nuts and wheat, plus it contains eggs, soy, peanuts and milk. Mars does not use fair trade or certified ethically traded chocolate for this product (though they’re working on it - their Maltesers malted milk balls will be Fair Trade next year in the UK).
UPDATE 12/5/2012: Snickers Slice n Share are back in stores for the holidays. They’re found in a much wider array of stores, I’ve seen them at Target, CVS, IT’SUGAR and a few others as well as on internet stores. Discount chains usually have them for $10-12, while the other stores like IT’SUGAR have them for about $20.
Monday, November 21, 2011
In the world of fair trade chocolate, it’s hard to find a balance between the ethical sourcing of the ingredients and the actual likeability of the finished product. One brand that has struck a good, mass appeal approach is Divine Chocolate. They’re based in the United Kingdom, but the chocolate is made in Germany.
Their product range in the United States is primarily 3.5 ounce tablet bars, with a few holiday items each year. The ingredients are Fair Trade certified as much as possible.
I picked up the Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Ginger & Orange at Cost Plus World Market. I like the idea of a chocolate bar with a little bit of flavor and maybe even a candy-like flair to it.
I really like their new bar mold. The old one was simple and generic. The new one is the same format, but with little icons in each of the pieces. I like the thickness of the bar and the divisions - easy to snap apart and ideally sized for a bite.
The bar has an excellent and crisp snap. The scent is a bit woodsy, mostly from the ginger but with a well rounded cocoa note to it. The ingredients were not simply candied orange and candied ginger though. Instead it was something called Orange Granules which were made from orange juice, apples, sugar, rice flour, fructose, pectin, citric acid and orange flavor. Seems odd to make something that’s normally considered garbage (orange peels). The ginger is also just natural ginger flavor, no actual pieces.
The result are little sticky, slightly tacky orange bits. They’re good in the sense that they taste fruity, a little zesty and tangy with a lot more juice taste than orange peel. They’re not at all fibery, though they did get stuck in my teeth.
The dark chocolate is smooth with a silky melt and well rounded flavor. There’s a little hint of bitterness to it, but it’s tempered by the woodsy but slightly drying ginger. I was hoping for a little warm kick from the ginger, but that never really formed.
Overall, it’s a very good bar, it’s also a crowd pleaser, in the sense that most folks will go for a fruity bar over a straight 70%. I like the package design and the added design elements on the bar mold now. It would be nice to see fewer ingredients on the list, but at least they’re all real things.
Though the bar gets high marks for being fair trade, Kosher, non-GMO and vegan, it is made on shared equipment with wheat, milk, almonds and hazelnuts.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.